Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


54 The EU and Central Asia

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionCleared from scrutiny
Document detailsJoint Staff Working Document on the implementation of the EU Central Asia Strategy
Legal base
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Document numbers(36624), 5241/15, SWD(15) 2

Summary and Committee's conclusions

54.1 The 2007 EU Central Asia strategy — embracing Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — prioritised a number of areas for engagement and cooperation:

·  good governance, rule of law, human rights and democratisation;

·  education and training; economic development, trade and investment;

·  transport and energy; environmental sustainability and water management; and

·  common security threats and challenges (see our predecessors' earlier Reports for full details[ 393]).

54.2 The Strategy envisaged a formal review. But Member States and the Commission agreed in mid-2012 on a "lighter-touch implementation review" and "a future orientation to guide the EU in its engagement", which was reinforced by Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions.

54.3 In 2014, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) produced a highly-critical report on how the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) had planned and managed €674 million (£479 million) of development assistance to the Central Asian republics in the period 2007-12. Assistance covered too many sectors and involved too many small projects. The Commission/EEAS could not establish how much the EU had spent per sector and per country. Disbursement decisions were based on partner countries' professed commitments to reform rather than on progress achieved. Implementation was slow overall. The regional programmes did not achieve a genuine regional dimension. Commission reports focused on activity rather than results.

54.4 Related to this was a separate ECA Report on EuropeAid's evaluation and Results-Orientated Monitoring Systems (which was debated in European Committee B) and the prospect of the Commission's long-overdue EU Development and Cooperation Results Framework (see "Background" below for further details).

The Joint Staff Working Document

54.5 In January 2015, the Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR; Federica Mogherini) issued this further report. It provides an overview of progress to date on the implementation of the EU Central Asia Strategy, identifies possible areas for change or additional focus and sets the scene for a further detailed policy review scheduled to take place over the coming months under the Latvian EU Presidency (see our predecessors' 25 February 2015 Report for details[ 394]).

54.6 The previous Committee said that it raised three issues:

—  the quality of the Commission and EEAS evaluation systems (about which the previous Committee had been pressing the Government for a year, based on several European Court of Auditors Special Reports);

—  who represented the EU in roles such as this (an EU Special Representative (EUSR), appointed by the Council, or a Special Envoy appointed by the HR); and

—  how an upcoming review of this Strategy was to be handled in terms of parliamentary scrutiny.

54.7 Most recently, it asked the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) to keep it fully informed on that policy review. The Minister now explains that, rather than a "top level substantive strategy review … just two years since the previous review in 2012", Council Conclusions have been agreed that "form a narrative assessment that provides guidance on implementation of the underlying strategy, reaffirming its core validity, while adjusting where needed emphasis on specific areas". The 2007 EU Central Asia strategy itself thus remains unchanged and there are no specific new policy proposals within the Council Conclusions.

54.8 Adopted by the 22 June Foreign Affairs Council, the Council Conclusions reaffirm Central Asia as a region of strategic importance, confirm that the main objectives and priority areas of the 2007 EU Strategy for Central Asia remain pertinent, and commit the EU to establishing a strong, durable and stable relationship with the five Central Asian countries and to a relationship "based on the principles of responsibility and ownership, which is aimed at fostering the stable, secure and sustainable development of the region".

54.9 A core focus remains on promoting good governance and respect for the Rule of Law, as well as promoting educational links and addressing continuing serious challenges to human rights in the region.

54.10 As well as encouraging greater trade and investment, the aim is gradually embedding the region more firmly into international rules-based systems.

54.11 The Council Conclusions additionally highlight the importance of assessing approaches in the region and tailoring these to suit specific national circumstances, given the significant political, economic and broader differentiation between the states in the region. This should not, however, (the Minister notes) come at the expense of continued work on established and useful regional initiatives where common approaches are required (for example cross-border security challenges such as migration, border management, water management and action against drugs trafficking).

54.12 All in all, the Minister "continues to believe that the EU Central Asia Strategy provides a useful framework for EU engagement in the region". Looking ahead, as the existing Strategy based on the Council Conclusions is implemented, and the EEAS and Commission put forward proposals on this basis, the Minister "will continue throughout to seek to encourage focus on what concrete outcomes can be achieved by proposed projects and programmes and how this can best be evaluated".

54.13 Elsewhere in this Report we consider two key related developments:

—  the latest Commission/EEAS proposals on an EU International Cooperation and Development Results Framework, whose contents are the latest stage in a long-overdue process, which has already involved two European Committee debates;[ 395] and

—  a draft Council Decision on the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Central Asia,[ 396] for whom these Council Conclusions envisage a central role in taking the Strategy forward.

54.14 Given the findings of the ECA Special Report (c.f. paragraph 53.03 above) and the fact that programming for 2014-20 will be €1.1 billion (£781 million) (56% more that in 2007-13), effective implementation will be ever more crucial. The Council Conclusions make the right noises: in implementing the Strategy, the EU "will take into account the lessons learnt and the changes in the region as well as the altering geopolitical situation around it", and "[i]n view of the growing differentiation in the region and in order to address the important areas highlighted in these Conclusions", "encourages" the EEAS and the Commission to "come forward with proposals for effective implementation of the Strategy in accordance with the needs for a renewed partnership with the region".

54.15 However, time alone— or, perhaps, a further European Court of Auditors' Special Report in due course — will tell whether the results live up to these prescriptions and exhortations.

54.16 In the meantime, we now clear this Joint Staff Working Document.

Full details of the documents: Joint Staff Working Document: Progress Report on the implementation of the EU Central Asia Strategy: (36624), 5241/15, SWD(15) 2.

Background

54.17 At the time of the mid-2012 "lighter-touch implementation review", the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) produced his own assessment (see our predecessors' previous Reports for details). In brief, he regarded the EU Central Asia Strategy as a useful framework in terms of building the regional stability, greater rule of law and economic growth he wished to see. While there was still clear room for improvement, the Strategy, together with the active engagement of the EU Special Representative for Central Asia over the last five years, had helped the EU raise its profile and impact in a region of growing strategic importance, from what was a low base in 2007. His main concern was that EU assistance was spread too thinly. He was encouraging the EEAS to open (and fully staff) Delegation Offices in all Central Asian states as a key element of improving EU visibility, and had underline the importance of personal high-level engagement with senior leaders in the five countries. It would be important, particularly in light of transition in Afghanistan, for the EU to focus on regional security issues in the mid-term, as well as remaining focussed on promoting rule of law/human rights, economic regional co-operation.

54.18 In 2014, a European Court of Auditors' Special Report examined how the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) had planned and managed €674 million (£479 million) of development assistance to the Central Asian republics in the period 2007-12. It concluded that, under challenging circumstances, planning and allocation had been generally satisfactory. But assistance covered too many sectors and involved too many small projects. The Commission/EEAS could not establish how much the EU had spent per sector and per country. Disbursement decisions were based on partner countries' professed commitments to reform rather than on progress achieved. Implementation was slow overall. The regional programmes did not achieve a genuine regional dimension. Commission reports focused on activity rather than results. At that time, the then Minister (Lynne Featherstone) said that these were general issues, which would be addressed via the EU's new "Agenda for Change",[ 397] an updated Development Cooperation Instrument and the Commission's work on an effective results framework, to measure impact and not just activities undertaken (see our predecessors' 25 February 2015 Report for details[ 398]).

The previous Committee's assessment

54.19 Our predecessors noted with satisfaction that a related debate on a European Court of Auditors' Special Report on EuropeAid's evaluation and Results-Orientated Monitoring Systems had been held, [ 399] and agreed with all the points made by the relevant Department for International Development Minister (Mr Desmond Swayne), who led it. During the debate, the Minister said that:

—  unless an organisation could evaluate what it had done and work out what had worked, what had not and whether those lessons could be learned and applied to future projects, it would become increasingly inefficient;[ 400]

—  the key question was whether the EU had been doing its homework as a result of those processes: in this regard, the EU had "been panned by the auditors";[ 401]

—  DFID's own assessment of the European Union as an effective deliverer of aid was "more a matter of luck than of judgment";[ 402]

—  even where "people and our partners" accepted that matters needed to be dealt with, the key question was: "how high up the agenda they are"; for the Government, such matters as vital, but it had to work through allies, with respect to Nordic countries and others who think these are important issues and raise them up the agenda, and there was a barrier to overcome in that others had different priorities;[ 403] and

—  the Court of Auditors had done a sterling job; the relevant procedures were not adequate and were not being adequately carried out — "a woeful situation, which we must get right".[ 404]

54.20 Though pleased also to hear in that debate that there were, after all, to be Council Conclusions regarding the long-overdue EU Development and Cooperation Results Framework, our predecessors emphasised that it was what those Council Conclusions said that would make the difference, especially as it was plain that far from all Member States were as keen as the UK on putting the Commission/EEAS feet to the fire. Our predecessors therefore asked the Minister to provide the Committee with a copy of the Council Conclusions that were finally adopted and his views on how effectively they moved this vital process forward.

54.21 Our predecessors looked forward to receiving the Council Decision and the Minister for Europe's EM on the new EUSR for Central Asia proposed by HR Mogherini — a move that they welcomed not only because of the need for such an intermediary if this important EU Strategy was ever going to get properly off the ground, but also because the EUSR process was back where it belonged, under the control of the Member States.

54.22 Finally, our predecessors welcomed the Minister for Europe's assurance that the Committee would be kept fully in the picture on the upcoming work on the next iteration of this Strategy. Though he did not say so specifically, our predecessors presumed that his assurance included depositing the final version for scrutiny before it was submitted to the Council for adoption.

54.23 In the meantime, our predecessors continued to retain this present implementation review under scrutiny.[ 405]

The Minister's letter of 22 June 2015

54.24 The Minister says that, during the dissolution of Parliament, discussions took place in Brussels working groups, and encloses a copy of the draft Council Conclusions — in confidence at this stage as it is marked limité, but in the expectation that this marking will be removed following adoption, after which his officials will provide an unclassified version. Thus, in "accordance with standard scrutiny procedures", the Minister says that the draft Council Conclusions have "not been deposited for formal scrutiny as the content and method of adoption do not fall within depositable categories"; he would, however, "be glad to provide any further information you may require on UK or EU engagement in Central Asia".

54.25 In the meantime, the Minister says that, as far as the substance of discussions and the resulting Council Conclusions is concerned, "the underlying strategy both in text and substance will not change at all as a result of the Conclusions", which he says coincides with his assessment, as set out in his letter of 27 March, "that top level substantive strategy review should not be the goal at this stage, just two years since the previous review in 2012". Rather:

"the Council Conclusions form a narrative assessment that provides guidance on implementation of the underlying strategy, reaffirming its core validity, while adjusting where needed emphasis on specific areas." 

54.26 Overall, the Minister continues to believe that "the EU Central Asia Strategy provides a useful framework for EU engagement in the region".

54.27 He continues as follows:

"The Conclusions update the position on a number of recent developments such as the appointment of a new EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Peter Burian, on which the Committee has already been briefed, and the conclusion of negotiations and initialling of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Kazakhstan, discussions on which continue in Brussels working groups. Once these are concluded I will be writing to the Committee to seek clearance for the Council Decision on signature."

54.28 The Conclusions additionally:

"highlight the importance of assessing approaches in the region and tailoring these to suit specific national circumstances, given the significant political, economic and broader differentiation between the states in the region. This should not however come at the expense of continued work on established and useful regional initiatives where common approaches are required (for example cross-border security challenges such as migration, border management, water management and action against drugs trafficking)."

54.29 A core focus remains on:

"promoting good governance and respect for the Rule of Law, as well as promoting educational links and addressing continuing serious challenges to human rights in the region."

54.30 Work on promoting further integration of markets and an improved investment climate is also highlighted, "with the potential to play a significant role in gradually embedding the region more firmly into international rules-based systems".

54.31 As the existing Strategy, based on the Council Conclusions, is implemented, and the EEAS and Commission put forward proposals on this basis:

"we will continue throughout to seek to encourage focus on what concrete outcomes can be achieved by proposed projects and programmes and how this can best be evaluated."

54.32 In conclusion:

"the 2007 EU Central Asia strategy itself remains unchanged and there are no specific new policy proposals within the Council Conclusions."

54.33 On 22 June, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted Conclusions that are as in the draft sent to us by the Minister. They thus reaffirm Central Asia as a region of strategic importance, confirms that the main objectives and priority areas of the 2007 EU Strategy for Central Asia remain pertinent, and commit the EU to establishing a strong, durable and stable relationship with the five Central Asian countries and to a relationship "based on the principles of responsibility and ownership, which is aimed at fostering the stable, secure and sustainable development of the region".

54.34 As well as calling for the strengthening of trade and energy links between the EU and Central Asian countries and reinforcing cooperation on security and stability, including sustainable management of natural resources, the Council "emphasises the fundamental importance of democratisation, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and socio-economic development, all of which are essential elements of the Strategy".

54.35 The Council welcomes the appointment of Ambassador Peter Burian as the new EU Special Representative for Central Asia, whose role is:

"to act as an important channel of dialogue and communication at the highest level with the central Asian countries, to promote overall Union political coordination in Central Asia and enhance the Union's effectiveness and visibility in the region."

54.36 In implementing the Strategy the EU "will take into account the lessons learnt and the changes in the region as well as the altering geopolitical situation around it". With this in mind, the Council says:

"In view of the growing differentiation in the region and in order to address the important areas highlighted in these Conclusions, the Council encourages the EEAS and the Commission to come forward with proposals for effective implementation of the Strategy in accordance with the needs for a renewed partnership with the region."[ 406]

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 12 (24 March 2015) and Thirty-fourth Report HC 219-xxxiii (2014-15), chapter 6 (25 February 2015); also see (28674),—: Twenty-fifth Report HC 41-xxv (2006-07), chapter 12 (13 June 2007).


393   See Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 12 (24 March 2015) and Thirty-fourth Report HC 219-xxxiii (2014-15), chapter 6 (25 February 2015); also see (28674),-: Twenty-fifth Report HC 41-xxv (2006-07), chapter 12 (13 June 2007). Back

394   Ibid. Back

395   See (36775), 7604/15, at chapter 17 of this Report. Back

396   See (36777), - at chapter 24 of this Report. Back

397   In 2011 the EU adopted two reforms that (according to its website) are "designed to make its development policy both more strategic and more targeted: the 12-points Agenda for Change and new policy and rules for budget support"; these changes would "make sure EU aid targets the countries in greatest need, where external support can really make a difference in terms of poverty reduction", and will be concentrated "in two overall priority areas": human rights, democracy and other aspects of good governance; and inclusive and sustainable growth: see https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/policies/european-development-policy/agenda-change_en for further information. Back

398   Thirty-fourth Report HC 219-xxxiii (2014-15), chapter 6 (25 February 2015). Back

399   Gen Co Deb, European Committee B, 9 March 2015, cols. 3-16. Back

400   Col. 4. Back

401   Col. 4. Back

402   Col. 5. Back

403   Col. 6. Back

404   Col. 8. Back

405   Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 12 (24 March 2015). Back

406   See Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on Central Asia for the full text. Back


 
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Prepared 30 July 2015